Committee for the Economy: Energy Strategy Report

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 23rd November 2020.

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Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP 4:15 pm, 23rd November 2020

Like other Members, I welcome the motion. As an Economy Committee member I thank all of the members who played their role in bringing the report to the House, and I thank the Clerk and the Assembly staff for the way in which they conducted themselves on this and all of the matters. As Members have said, energy has a huge part to play in a very significant and large Economy Department. I thank them for that.

The micro inquiry received a large range of responses from across energy and business organisations, consumers, individuals and academics. There was a lot of good engagement, and it brought together this important report, though, of course, the report is just the beginning of a discussion of the ideas that were brought forward. We know that, as that report has been provided to the Department for the Economy, the energy strategy itself will determine future priorities and the potential changes needed to achieve the targets in it. Whilst we want to see progress as soon as possible, we recognise that there are time frames to be met, and we hope that the energy strategy can be put out to consultation early in 2021.

There is no time to stand still, and we need to continue to make progress. I welcome the fact that the Minister has said that this is one of her priorities. She has, of course, announced the 2030 renewable electricity target as being at least 70%. I, like many other Members, have met many people across the sectors who have welcomed that. There will, of course, be those who say that we need to be more ambitious, but it is welcome that we have that target in place.

We got a range a views on what would or should be the key elements of the energy strategy. It is clear that there is strong support for the principal focus of the energy strategy to be the 2050 net zero carbon emissions target that the UK has adopted. All of the actions in the strategy should, at the very least, promote and be very consistent with the aim of meeting the 2050 target. It was highlighted that this should require cross-departmental working. We all acknowledge and reflect on the fact that all we do in the Assembly requires a certain level of that.

As has been highlighted by other Members, consumers and affordability are key issues. I welcome the fact that the responses brought that very much to the fore, because all of us who represent constituents want to ensure that whatever comes out will tackle fuel poverty and benefit the consumer and businesses.

The infrastructure element is important. There was a strong recognition that we need to see more investment in public transport systems as a way to reduce energy consumption. There was also an important view, which I share, that we need to see more investment in the electricity grid and the realisation of strategic infrastructure in a timely manner. That is crucial as well.

On a final note, promoting the energy strategy and increasing public awareness were important points to come out of the micro inquiry as well. We want to encourage stakeholders to be fully aware of the energy strategy and of the draft energy strategy and of how their role as businesses and consumers is important to its success. It is important as well that we see the involvement in this of communities at every level in our constituencies and Northern Ireland, because this will impact all of us. We all have a role to play.

I look forward to seeing the outcome of the debate on the energy strategy. We look forward to seeing the consultation. There will be many more discussions to be had in the Chamber around all of the details, but this is an important discussion that we are having today. As I said, I very much welcome the motion.